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Much Ado About "Shrew"

The Richmond Shakespeare Festival starts out with a hilarious "Taming of the Shrew"

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At least, it mostly did. I fear Katherina's final "Thy husband is thy lord, thy life" speech will always grate a little on my Gloria Steinem-saturated ears, regardless of how effectively Petruchio's bizarre behavior modification techniques have been rendered. Still, with the perspective provided by this brief but telling look and the sterling performances by the two leads, I was able to put the gender politics aside for a while and enjoy the comic highlights of this production.

And there are dozens, thanks to an accomplished cast expertly guided by Luciano. From the relatively subtle (a college sweater worn by a graduate of Pisa University adorned with a large "P.U.") to the outrageously slapstick (Petruchio's comic manhandling of his servant Gremio, played by the hysterical Scott Wichmann), the humor in this production will keep you laughing almost constantly.

The plot starts off relatively simply with Baptista (Thomas Nowlin), a nobleman of Padua, stating that his young, pretty daughter Bianca (Amber Wiley) will not be available for marriage until his elder daughter, Katherina, has been successfully wed. While Petruchio takes on "the shrew," a motley trio of suitors tries many desperate measures to gain Bianca's favor. Lucentio (Matt Polson) manages to get hired as Bianca's tutor. Hortensio (Andrew Hamm) dons a disguise to teach her music, while Gremio (Freddy Kauffman) essentially tries to buy her love. Much confusion ensues on the way to true love's eventual triumph.

Hamm adds considerable charm to the proceedings in his role as "master of music," his musical embellishments (and onstage guitar-playing) making both the beginning and the ending of the play particularly jaunty. As with all RSF productions, "Shrew" is enacted on a mostly bare stage, but the few props (an antique phonograph, a riding crop) are well-chosen. The costumes, designed by Rebecca Cairns, complement the characters nicely in key scenes, particularly Petruchio's wacky wedding get-up.

This wedding — with the groom's late arrival and erratic behavior — marks the beginning of Petruchio's mind games with Katherina, and Solomon does a great job of committing to the lunacy without ever losing the affection that grounds his quest. For her part, Sanford remains spirited to the end, and her final assent to Petruchio's governance seems more a realization of the power of love than a submission to patriarchy. Their courtship may be crazy, but you can't help but love these two in "Shrew." S



Richmond Shakespeare Festival's "The Taming of the Shrew" is playing at Agecroft Hall, 4305 Sulgrave Road, Thursdays through Sundays at 8 p.m. until July 9. Tickets are $23 and available through 1-866-BARD-TIX or www.bardtix.org.



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